A lot of people were surprised when I said I was interested in playing The Smurfs 2 video game, since I was very vocal in my opposition to the movie itself (I mean come on, have you seen the trailers?!). The reason is simple – Way Forward made the game. Way Forward is one of very few developers (off hand the only other one I can think of is Twisted Pixel) whose name alone gets me interested in playing a game. In addition to some great original games such as Shantae and Mighty Switch Force, they also seem to be one of the few developers who treat licensed games with respect. Who would have ever expected Thor on DS to be decent? And yet these games swooped in and made a really solid 2D, beat-em-up.
So knowing these guys were behind The Smurfs 2, I figured it might actually be worth a look.
I of course haven’t seen The Smurfs 2 movie and never, ever, ever will, so I can’t say how closely the game follows the plot of the film. In a nutshell, Gargamel has created these two Smurf like creatures which he calls Naughties because Gargamel is bad at naming things. The two Naughties kidnap Smurfette and The Smurfs have to get her back. There’s some other stuff in there about magic and cartoon Neil Patrick Harris shows up for reasons I’m not clear on, but that’s basically all you need to know about the story.
As a whole, The Smurfs 2 is about as basic a side-scroller as you can get. At the start of each level you select a Smurf, each with their own special ability. You have five to choose from at the outset, with five additional playable Smurfs unlocking as you progress through the game. You can also only choose one per stage to begin with, though when you finish the game you can then switch between any Smurf as you’re playing through the level. There is actually quite a bit of variety amongst the various Smurfs powers. Papa and Vanity can freeze enemies, Smurfette can glide after a jump, Grouchy can ground pound, Brainy can double jump, and so on. Though I found once I unlocked Hefty Smurf, nobody else really mattered anymore as that dude just hurls barbells and destroys everything in sight. The only reason I would switch away from him is when I got sick of hearing his ridiculously repetitive audio clips. What the hell does "When in doubt, smurf out" even mean? It rhymes I guess, was that the only criteria it needed to meet?
I suppose we may as well move straight to this as the repetitive audio is one of my, if not my actual, biggest gripes with this game. Each Smurf has a handful of their own unique things to say, but they say them constantly. By the time you’ve played through a single stage with one Smurf, you’ve already heard everything they have to say multiple times. On top of that, they make a noise every time they jump or basically do anything. Your Smurf never shuts the fuck up and it becomes tedious almost immediately.
The worst though is what happens in True Blue mode. Every time you kill an emeny, you get a vial of…something…that fills up a larger vial at the top of the screen. Fill that large vial, and you enter True Blue mode, which means that the berries that you collect in each stage are now doubled in value. The thing is, when you’re in this mode, The Smurfs theme song plays the whole time. La la la la la la, la la la la la, you know how it goes. At first it was pretty cool to hear the theme as I figured it had to work its way in there somewhere. The problem is that you are in True Blue mode constantly as it’s very easy to keep getting vials to maintain it, and even if you leave that mode, the larger vial is full again seconds later and you’re right back in it! It wasn’t long before I was playing the game on mute because I simply couldn’t stand to hear that theme song anymore. It’s too bad because the regular music is actually pretty decent, I just didn’t get to enjoy it for long at a time before LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA would smash its way through to assault my ears. I was tempted to just dodge enemies entirely so I didn't risk entering this mode, but one of the achievements requires you to obtain True Blue mode on every stage! So I was stuck.
The graphics are at the very least decent. There’s not much that can be done with the Smurf characters themselves since there is minimal visual variation between a lot of them, but the backgrounds contain a decent amount of detail and it doesn’t look as rushed overall as you may expect. The one piece of business that threw me off was seeing the Hank Azaria version of Gargamel in the final world, since up until that point you are only shown Gargamel through the cut scenes, where he looks like the cartoon version. I had almost forgotten I was playing the movie game at that point so seeing Azaria as the final boss was very surreal and kind of creepy.
The game play is simple but well put together. The controls feel solid, though it’s really just jump and attack. The Smurfs do move awfully slow though, and unless I’m completely missing something, there is no run button. Clumsy can do a somersault, which I would sometimes use to progress slightly faster, but other than that you’re stuck with the casual jogging pace all the Smurfs maintain. The levels themselves are well designed, if a little unremarkable. There is the occasional change up to the formula, such as a couple of vertically scrolling stages, but for the most part you’re simply running to the right until you reach the end. Occasionally Gargamel appears in a stage to throw an obstacle at you, but they are never a threat. In fact, they are such a non-threat that his surprise when his plan fails ("Fuck! I was sure two slowly descending obstacles would ensure your demise!") is kind of unintentionally funny. The boss fights that end each world are also, as expected, quite simple as they always require dodging a small number of attacks before the boss inexplicably falls down and you can jump on their head.
The game uses the Sonic approach to health only in place of rings, you have berries. You collect them throughout the stage and when you get hit you lose them all and go down to zero. Get hit when you have zero berries, and you’re dead. However the berries are so prevalent that it’s nearly impossible for this to happen. The berries spill out of you when you get hit so chances are great that you’ll just land on a bunch of them anyway.
So yes the game is very, very easy but it’s also The Smurfs 2 so it would be crazy to expect it to be anything but simple. There is some added challenge if you go for all the achievements since those require you to beat each boss without getting hit, and each stage does have mini-challenges you can complete that will add to the difficulty (don’t kill any enemies, finish the stage with 200 berries, etc). There is also a number of Smurf coins hidden in each stage, the majority of which you can’t obtain until a second playthrough. Still, even if you go for all of that, I can’t see this game lasting much longer than 5 or 6 hours. However, it is budget priced at $40, which makes the length easier to take.
The Smurfs 2 is a better game than it has any right to be. It’s a solid, though short, platformer with some annoying quirks but it’s an easy recommendation for kids and even families to play together since it does contain four player couch coop. So there you have it, Way Forward has done the impossible and not only gotten me to contribute money to The Smurfs franchise, but to then actually recommend an aspect of it to the public. What a strange time in my life.